The X-Men movies have been more good than bad. Sure, the ones that have been bad – looking at you, The Last Stand – have left a terrible scar, but others, like First Class and, as of recent, Days of Future Past, have helped it build back up. But there’s been some doubt behind the latest film in the series, X-Men: Apocalypse, mainly due to the Smurf-like nature of the main villain, En Sabah Nur, portrayed by Oscar Isaac. (Yep, Poe Dameron himself.)
The problem here isn’t Apocalypse’s nature, but rather his design. It’s hard to really take him seriously, even though his agenda revealed in the movie is pretty devastating once it all comes together. And Isaac does the best he can with the role. But it just seems…cheesy. Especially in the face of other great X-Men villains we’ve seen over the past few years. (We won’t count Deadpool because, well, he’s since been redeemed with his own film earlier this year.)
On top of that, the film does have trouble with establishing some characters (but not all). Alexandra Shipp is barely there as a young Storm; Lana Condor has a “blink and you’ll miss it” as Jubilee (she’s not even properly introduced); and Olivia Munn is, well, ehh as Psylocke. Not given much to do.
But it makes it sound like I’m dismissing the film. Nope, I’m just getting the big problems out of the way. And while they are substantial enough to make this feel like a lesser piece to Days of Future Past, Apocalypse does have enough moments to make it decent summer escapism. You could do better, of course…but you could also do Batman v Superman.
Anyway, the first thing I’ll note is that the established actors continue to bring a strong A-game, even if the newer ones don’t quite do so. James McAvoy is still an excellent Professor X; Michael Fassbender continues to make Magneto a complex, chaos-driven character; and Jennifer Lawrence is still ideal as Mystique, especially as she starts to – gasp! – care.
But that’s not all. Rose Byrne still adds a human element as Moira MacTaggert, the CIA operative who gets mixed up in all this; Tye Sheridan makes a pretty good Cyclops; Sophie Turner nearly steals the show as Jean Grey; and then there’s the best performer of all, Evan Peters, back running things (ha!) as Quicksilver – and putting on one of the best action sequences in the movie as he runs laps around an explosion, but still takes the time to enjoy a sip of Tab.
In fact, Bryan Singer directs the film with a great deal of energy, and even when the script can’t quite keep up pace, he still does better here than expected with the action sequences and the performances. That’s not to say it’s his best work – Days of Future Past and, of course, X2: X-Men United remain the top marks – but it’s still an improvement over whatever the hell he was doing with Superman Returns.
The effects aren’t bad – a little overkill at times – but they really pay off when they need to, especially with Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Alan Cumming he’s not, but he does well with the role and the effects blend with his performance pretty effortlessly.
Oh, and yes, as you could tell from the trailer, Hugh Jackman shows up as Wolverine. But I dare not spoil it – you’ll have to watch the film to see what he adds. It is a decent lead-up to his farewell with the role in The Wolverine 3 next year, though.
No, X-Men Apocalypse can’t quite reach the heights of First Class or Days of Future Past when it comes to keeping up the level of brilliance we’ve come to expect from the series. But it doesn’t go completely off the rails either, serving as a two-hour block of fun for those that don’t mind it. Again, it could’ve done stuff better – making Apocalypse more menacing, doing without some cheesy jokes, giving Munn more to do – but at least the ship stays the course, for the most part.